Feminism's bad rap and the efforts to combat misconceptions about feminists are topics that have recently sparked a plethora of interesting discussions in different forums. Yet, conversations with the strange 'not a feminist, but...' women have nevertheless left me baffled in recent days. I am still wondering what to do when I find myself wanting to scream about something that strikes me as blatantly sexist, while the women around me smile pleasantly. How do I persuasively defend my feminist opinions in a society that labels all opinionated women 'bitches'? Perhaps non-feminist women have always been around, but it also seems like the leaders of the misogynistic backlash against Hillary Clinton's campaign have done an amazing job of overnight anti-feminist indoctrination, for the number of sexist sentiments expressed by the beneficiaries of feminism seems to be on the rise.
Clearly, we need to develop a strategy. We need guidelines for what to do when we find ourselves surprised by attitudes hostile to feminism. To begin, here are just a few examples taken from my own recent experiences that I'd like to discuss.
Scenario 1: "Women are bad at X because I am bad at X"
This is the toughest one I've had to face. "All women aren't stupid, just you," doesn't seem like the right thing to say. The misconception that any one woman's characteristics or weaknesses can be used as proof of the nature of the entire sex is so common that it has frequently been lampooned. But what do you do with this sentiment when it comes from a woman?The only thing I've found to be successful so far is to suggest that perhaps the speaker's deficiencies come not from some hard-wiring, but from something about her upbringing that encouraged her to focus her energies elsewhere. With a scientist friend, I said that if she couldn't find a biological mechanism for her 'women don't remember historical facts as well as men' theory, it was suspect. I then suggested that her lack of interest in history might be just a personal preference, or it might come from the type of books that are marketed as 'boys' books' vs. 'girls' books.' I was then stunned to hear her accept that the differences might be cultural rather than biological, only to claim five minutes later that women are bad a puns, because her boyfriend is better at them than she is. Argh. Does anyone else have other ideas?
Scenario 2: "Feminists devalue motherhood"
To this I pointed out that feminism is working to make motherhood easier for women because feminist do value motherhood. We value it enough to fight for affordable childcare, fair pay, health care, and paid maternity and paternity leave. This statement was immediately followed by:
Scenario 3: "All women must have paid maternity leave, because I had paid maternity leave"
A. Having to use all the sick leave and personal days you've accumulated over the years is not the same thing as paid maternity leave.
B. Maybe you've found a great company. But the U.S.A. has no law that mandates paid maternity leave, so many companies don't offer it. We're trying to fix that for all the women stuck in work environments that aren't as happy as yours.
Scenario 4: "But, I like feeling pretty!"
My gut instinct is to say something along the lines of, "yeah, being attractive sure is a lot of fun when your livelihood doesn't depend on your pretty face and girlish figure." Perhaps that's too combative. The truth is, though, that feminism has given women nothing but options, and the assurance that they cannot legally be pushed out of a job for being deemed unattractive by someone else. Turning that legal assurance into a practical one is a battle we're still fighting.
I want to be better prepared in the future, so I'm here to ask for help. What anti-feminist arguments have you faced, and how did you respond? Should we avoid snark, or embrace it? Has anyone already written a post on how to talk to non-feminist women that might serve as a good reference?